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Terrorism & Security

US-born cleric inspired Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad

The influence of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki looms again as new evidence strengthens the notion that Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was inspired by a global extremist network stretching from Yemen to Pakistan.

By David MonteroCorrespondent / May 7, 2010

In this undated file photo from the social networking site Orkut.com, a man who was identified by neighbors in Connecticut as Faisal Shahzad, is shown.

Orkut.com/AP/File

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The ideological thrust may have come from an American cleric now on the CIA hit list. The bombmaking expertise and funding possibly came from the Pakistani Taliban or other extremist groups in Pakistan.

New evidence is deepening a notion, albeit still unverified, that the failed car bombing in Times Square was not the work of one disgruntled young man, but inspired by a global extremist network stretching from Yemen to Pakistan, united by the Internet and a common radical vision of faith.

As a result, the United States is likely to push Pakistan to press harder against militant enclaves in that country’s North Waziristan region, deemed the epicenter of the network behind the failed bombing.

But that is likely to strain an already threadbare relationship between Washington and Islamabad, experts warn.

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Internet fuels extremism

As investigators sift through clues from the failed attack, one pressing question is how and why Faisal Shahzad – an MBA with a wife and children – suddenly drifted toward extremism.

The answer may be the Internet. Shahzad has reportedly told investigators that he was inspired to violence by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-Yemeni cleric whom the CIA recently put on a hit list, reports the New York Times. Awlaki, on the run in Yemen, is also linked to the Fort Hood shooter and the alleged Christmas Day underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

According to one account, Shahzad told investigators that he actually met with Awlaki – as well as Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and even Abdulmutallah, who tried to blow up a Northwest airliner landing in Detroit on Christmas Day. Investigators are skeptical, reports the New York Daily News, saying Shahzad claims to know most of the biggest players in the world of radical Islam. They have yet to verify his statements.

If true, Shahzad’s apparent susceptibility to Awlaki’s sermons, coupled with an ability to travel to Pakistan for training, and then back to the US with an American passport, offers a disturbing portrait of a virtual jihadi highway, linking mentality to means and money.

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